A roadmap for a digital society

Roadmap for a digital society
Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel ©Aron Urb (EU2017EE)

Government Europa attended Masters of Digital 2018, where Commissioner Mariya Gabriel spoke on the importance of skills and varied ecosystems for a digital society.

A digital society is one which fully adopts the Digital Single Market, including the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, Big Data and interconnectivity across SMEs and key industrial players.

Bringing together SMEs with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Samsung, DIGITALEUROPE’s annual flagship event, Masters of Digital (MoD), saw policymakers and the private sector join forces to discuss the latest developments in research, development and innovation (RD&I). Government Europa attended the 2018 edition of MoD in Brussels, Belgium, where Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, gave a keynote speech on the developments made towards the digital society and the work which remains on her agenda.

An innovation ecosystem

As the bonding agents between SMEs and key industry players, digitisation strategies and enhanced internet connectivity are integral in connecting consumers, manufacturers and corporations. To this effect, Gabriel said: “The exponential growth in digitisation and internet connectivity is the backbone of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” With the potential to drive societies forward, materialise innovative business models and support governments to find solutions to legitimate policy concerns, the process of digitisation is set to be one of the most transformative to the way in which we all work.

Gabriel expressed that her full attention is being paid to this revolutionary wave – from the opportunities which are being created as a result, to the new industries, start-ups and founders who have the courage to embark on these journeys towards creating a digital society. “Europe is home to multiple, thriving start-up ecosystems, fuelled by imagination, technical and scientific excellence and a tenacity to achieve. We believe Europe represents a key level for action: when it comes to start-up ecosystems, the whole is easily greater than the sum of its parts.

Digital: a mechanism for change

Over the last three years, the European Commission have delivered a number of legislative measures towards the creation of a digital society, one of which is the Digital Single Market Strategy. Although the overall goals of this agenda are clear, Commissioner Gabriel outlined the specific importance of:

  • Enabling digital goods and services to move freely across national borders within the EU;
  • Ensuring ease for online businesses to pursue opportunities across Europe; and
  • Providing European citizens with a strengthened level of consumer protection for digital transactions, regardless of the country in which they reside, or where the business is established.

“After three years, I am happy to say we have made considerable progress,” Gabriel said. 44 initiatives have been put forward, 25 of which are legislative initiatives which have been proposed to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. Covering a wide range of actions relevant to digital society, the proposals address areas including infrastructure, high-performance computing, data and skills.

The commissioner added: “European co-legislators have already reached an agreement on key components of the Digital Single Market, such as the end of roaming and spectrum co-ordination. Online sales will be eased by simpler and more efficient VAT rules for start-ups and SMEs, and the end of unjustified geo-blocking.”

Gabriel expressed confidence that the commission would continue to adopt the remaining proposals through 2018, following requests from the European Council. “We have to show citizens the benefits that digital technology can bring to the European economy and society. To this end, we are providing support to help European innovators deliver more breakthrough innovations.”

Furthering the mechanisms which will unlock these capabilities, the commission aims to deliver policies that will help more start-ups become scale-ups, as well as delivering support to SMEs to assist them in taking advantage of the digital transformation and strengthening their position within not only a digital society, but the total global economy.

The goalposts for digital

Ultimately, the commission hopes to create sustainable growth and quality jobs. In this, the importance of homegrown European talent and business is of utmost importance. To this end, the commissioner said: “If you go back ten or 15 years, Europe had isolated examples of success, such as Skype or Nokia. Today, things are different. Companies such as Criteo, France; Spotify, Sweden; and Zalando, Germany, are securing global success and reminding the world of European entrepreneurial excellence.”

To date, Europe has produced 41 technology companies which have attained billion-euro valuations through private market investment rounds, either through acquisition or valuation in the public markets post-initial public offering. However, successful companies often take time to build. Effectively, they require:

  • A strong team which focuses on long-term execution;
  • The right balance of finance and access to markets; and
  • Access to customers and skills, in order to be able to remain competitive and strive towards becoming global leaders.

“Let there be no doubt,” Gabriel continued. “The potential of the European start-up scene is huge… In 2017, more than €19 billion of venture capital was invested in European companies. The largest level of investment on record.”

Progressing the EU’s digital position

Since 2012, Europe’s artificial intelligence (AI) companies have accounted for more than €3.8 billion across over 1,000 deals, aside from their potential contributions to digital society principles. For example, Gabriel raised the point that when it comes to blockchain technology, Europe is leading, whilst the US remains behind. Europe also has world-class talent in the fields of IoT, cybersecurity, high-performance computing and robotics.

The European Commission is taking an active role in working with these areas of excellence, in moulding and delivering concrete action and policy in order to support growth for digital SMEs and start-ups in Europe. The commissioner said: “We all know that digitisation is radically transforming the economy and society. Automation and diffusion of advanced digital technologies will increase productivity and create new economic opportunities.” Integral to this transformation towards a digital society are a new generation of technologies, such as AI, IoT and Big Data, and supporting these will ensure that the EU remains at the very forefront of innovation and business.

These technologies rely on one crucial condition, Gabriel added: the development of employees’ skills to utilise the technology in all sectors of the economy, including:

  • Automotive;
  • Energy;
  • Telecoms;
  • Health; and
  • Retail, among other industries.

“However, many companies especially SMEs do not have the know-how and the operational capacity to benefit from digital technologies yet. We must therefore step up our efforts for training and education programmes which providing learning of digital skills already at school.”

Taking the lead

In January, the commission adopted a Digital Education Action Plan which outlines measures to assist member states’ education systems to adapt to the growing digital space. Calling for better use of digital technologies for education, as well as the development of the digital skills necessary to live and work in this age. “Acquiring digital skills needs to start at an early age. Therefore, I have decided to scale up the EU Code Week initiative to encourage many more schools in Europe to participate, with the goal of achieving 50% participation by 2020.”

Despite the fact that younger generations are already more competent in using the internet, apps and games, the commission is placing a greater focus on the importance of these same users gaining vital knowledge on underlying structures and algorithms, in efforts to recruit the digital creators and leaders of the future. Commissioner Gabriel said: “I take the opportunity today to encourage IT companies – but also all digitally-intensive enterprises in any sector – to respond to this challenge and offer traineeships for our young people.”

On the other hand, the commission sees vital importance in establishing programmes and policies which connect ecosystems, founders and start-ups at a European level, in efforts to accelerate growth, co-operation and diversity. As a result, the product of this aim is the initiative Startup Europe. Helping over 700 start-ups with direct market access and support for the means of acceleration, the initiative has run for three years and attracted in excess of €160m in private investment in a push towards the transformation of a digital society.

Over the next few years Startup Europe will structure its efforts in order to provide a ‘Scaleup Continent’, Gabriel explained. This will involve:

  • “Boosting the participation of start-ups in EU-funded Research and Innovation programmes, especially in Deep Tech;
  • Strengthening the start-ups ecosystem in Central and Eastern Europe; and
  • Supporting high-growth start-ups to secure market opportunities beyond Europe.”

Learning for the future

Commissioner Gabriel concluded that the need for initiatives across Europe’s cities and universities is huge, alongside the need to launch new ecosystems and stimulate collaboration between start-ups and the corporate world. The Digital Single Market Strategy – alongside Startup Europe – is just one of the vital policies that will facilitate ecosystems, start-ups and scale-ups. “All of this will be complemented by a data-driven tool – the ‘Innovation Radar’ – a catalyst for the emergence of a whole new ecosystem around the Horizon 2020 programme.”

She concluded: “I am very confident that our initiatives and policy actions will support a new wave of innovative European start-ups to take their place on the global stage. We have no choice – we must succeed and to succeed, we need to act together. This is my commitment and I am determined to live up to the expectations of the citizens, the entrepreneurs and all the businesses in Europe.”

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